Incense Magick: Art & Ritual of Incense

Incense fanatic Carl Neal walks you through the joys, wonders, and science of making and using natural incense. From making your first basic cone to creation and use of elaborate incense rituals, Incense Magick is your guide to the sometimes secretive world of incense and incense making. Every article explores different facets of incense, incense making, ingredients, rituals, tools, or techniques.

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Carl Neal

Carl Neal

  Carl Neal has walked a Pagan path for 30 years. He is a self-avowed incense fanatic and has published 2 books through Llewellyn Worldwide on the topic. For many years (and even occasionally these days) he was a vendor of altar tools and supplies which led him to write The Magick Toolbox for Red Wheel/Weiser  

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Foundations of Incense: Sage

In the Paganisphere, there is perhaps no more widely used incense than sage.  When I vend at Pagan events, sage bundles are usually the first thing that sells out.  But there is a lot more to “sage” than might meet the eye.

First, we should define “sage”.  Most of us use common names to refer to plants, although this can be confusing.  “Sage” is definitely one of those instances.  In the Pagan world, people generally mean “white sage” (salvia apiana) when they say sage.  Other forms of sage are also used in incense making.  “Culinary” or “garden” sage (salvia officinalis) comes in many different varieties and is a wonderful ingredient in incense.  Pineapple sage is my personal favorite. In fact, the whole issue of common names comes up again when we talk about “desert sage” because there are several different plants called by that name.  and Salvia eremostachya is known as “desert sage”, as is artemisia tridentate.  Although not a true sage it still imparts a very similar scent.  This is one of the reasons that plant aficionados like to use Latin names for plants to ensure everyone is on the same page.  The fact that there are four totally different plants that we often refer to as “sage” is a good illustration of why.

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Foundations of Incense: Myrrh

It’s true that frankincense is the most famous incense resin, it is almost automatic when you say “frankincense” to want to immediately say “and myrrh”.  In antiquity the two were in nearly equal demand.  Although used more for the making of perfumes, myrrh was frequently burned in the same manner as frankincense.  While frankincense is a fairly simple scent to work with, myrrh presents far more complications.  Frankincense is a sweet, bright scent.  Myrrh is a complex, dark scent that can easily overpower other scents.  If you’ve ever been to one of my workshops you know that I am an advocate of spending time with individual incense ingredients.  Sometimes by listening to your ingredients they will tell you things that they’ve told to no other person.  Myrrh has a lot to say and is worth devoting the time.

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  • Hearth M Rising
    Hearth M Rising says #
    I have never combined myrrh with sandalwood but will try it (over charcoal). I do like the smell of myrrh, but find few spellcast

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Foundations of Incense: Frankincense

While sandalwood is arguably the most traditional base material for incense, perhaps no ingredient’s name is better known than frankincense.  Its fame is based on more than just its place in the story of Christ’s birth in the New Testament book of Matthew.  In fact, frankincense plays an important role in ancient history that begins thousands of years before the beginning of the Common Era.  Frankincense was one of the key products shipped on the famed “silk road” of the ancient world.  It was a source of great wealth and, as a result, also a product of mystery and intrigue.  Even today the locations of many of the traditional groves that produce the highest quality frankincense remain a closely guarded family secret.

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Foundations of Incense: Sandalwood

In the next several entries I plan to quickly explore the materials that have formed the basis of incense historically as well as those that modern incense makers use regularly.  One of the most important incense ingredients historically is sandalwood.

There are 5 different varieties of sandalwood that are used in scented products, although only 3 of those have commonly been used in modern times.  Indian yellow sandalwood (santalum album) has historically been a preferred base material for incense in Asia and Africa.  Even in modern times, sandalwood is burned in every form from large pieces in fires to powdered bits in incense sticks and cones.  The biggest consumer of sandalwood, by far, is the perfume industry.  Sandalwood is a key ingredient in many popular perfumes.  Once you work with the fragrance for a while you will begin to recognize it in colognes and perfumes.  The popularity of sandalwood over the centuries has led to its endangered status in India, the motherland of incense.  International treaties have reduced the trade in sandalwood from India to the realms of bootleggers.  For some years now the only sandalwood from India that was legally available in the USA was from existing stockpiles.  It is now virtually impossible to get real sandalwood from India in the USA, although there are many imitation products sold under the label of “Indian sandalwood”.

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KENNY KLEIN FOUND GUILTY

My apologies for posting this on an incense blog, but I thought this information was too important to wait for other channels.  Yesterday, April 6, 2017, a jury in New Orleans found Kenny Klein guilty on 20 counts of possession of child pornography.  He was immediately taken into custody.  Sentencing is scheduled for April 20.

 

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Heating Incense

I talked about the honored history of the incense pellet as well as how to make your own at home.  The final key, of course, is actually using the incense. The basic act of heating pellets is the same as any other “non self-combusting” incense (how’s that for a mouthful?). 

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Ancient Incense: Pellets (making them!)

Last time I talked about the likely origins and historic use of incense pellets, but the real joy in discussing incense making is to actually make incense!  Making incense pellets is easy and fun, but it can be messy so plan for that.  I recommend that you make incense in an area with a floor you can mop.  If you make incense pellets in a carpeted area, it’s a good idea to put down some cardboard or a drop cloth to ensure no honey causes damage.  Unlike recipes for self-combusting incense (like sticks and cones) incense pellet recipes can be freely modified to fit your needs and the materials you have on hand. 

I strongly suggest that you wear gloves while making incense.  This is especially true with incense pellets.  Pellets are most often made with honey as a binder, but natural jams are also used (avoid any that contain corn syrup or artificial flavors).  Let’s start with a recipe (all ingredients should be finely powdered).

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